Isaiah 42.1-9; Psalm 29; Acts 10.34-43; Matthew 3.13-17
But while God’s voice is stating something clearly, Jesus is ALSO saying something here as well. His words and actions speak to his identity. By coming to John to be baptized, Jesus is saying he’s all in. Jesus is saying he is committed God’s will, God’s mission in the world.
But John isn’t so sure he should be baptizing Jesus. After all, baptism, at least until this point, has been very hierarchical. The master would never be baptized or taught by the student. John knows who Jesus is, knows Jesus is greater than he, and can’t fathom this complete role reversal. But Jesus speaks these words to John “it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness”, that seems to convince him.
Now, anytime people say something, anytime there is dialogue in the Bible, we really should pay attention – it’s pretty infrequent overall, which means when it does happen, it’s pretty important. Jesus statement here is the very first thing that he says in the entire gospel of Matthew – and it’s used to declare his purpose alongside John. They, in this moment, will fulfill all righteousness.
But what does that mean? The greek term translated as ‘righteousness’ here is incredibly difficult to define, and even more difficult to comprehend theologically. It can encapsulate complex notions of justice, uprightness, correctness, innocence, and redemption. It has an interior quality – righteousness is something inside us. But it also is a matter of practicing it externally – you must be actively righteous in the outside world. In the gospel of Matthew, Joseph is named righteous when he intends to end his relationship with Mary quietly. During the sermon on the mount in Matthew, Jesus says that those who yearn for righteousness and are oppressed because of their pursuits of it will receive God’s blessing.
In the context of this story, righteousness is probably best and most simply defined as acting in accordance with God’s will, so Jesus is doing what his dad would have him do. Jesus is committed to the intentions of God and the reality of God’s kingdom.
Up until this point in Matthew’s gospel, lots of things have been happening pertaining to Jesus, or in his vicinity, and at the most things have been happening to him. Those things all point to the intentions of God and the reality of God’s kingdom.
- Matthew starts with a genealogy that puts Jesus firmly in the context of the long, story of God’s life giving activity among Israel and all the nations stretching all the way back to Abraham. (Matthew 1.1) – Perhaps Jesus is part of a something ancient, perhaps even eternal.
- An angel visits Joseph before Jesus is even born to tell him that Jesus will save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1.21) Perhaps Jesus will be a savior.
- Jesus is born, Emmanual. (Matthew 1.25) Perhaps Jesus is God living among us.
- King Herod is frightened at news of Jesus’ birth. Perhaps Jesus will surprise us by turning everything upside down.
- The Wise Men, from lands far away, come to pay him homage. (2.11) Perhaps Jesus is here for more than just the locals, or the ‘in’ group.
- Joesph flees with his young family to stay safe from the murderous King Herod. (2.13-15) Perhaps Jesus knows and will continue to know suffering and oppression.
- Jesus is witnessed to by John, preparing the way for one greater than he. Perhaps Jesus really is the one.
All of these things have happened to and around him, and now he is stepping up, taking control, fully committed - he is all in. This story is no longer a question of ‘perhaps’, as story of maybe, it is a story of Jesus’ full commitment to God’s love for the world.
And his full commitment to God reminds us of God’s ever-present commitment to us. God’s words in the scene of Jesus’ baptism echo the ones we heard in Isaiah today. “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my sould delights; I have put my spirit on him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.” This piece of Isaiah is all about the servant God has called – for the sake of the world. God has called many servants over the generations, and by speaking up at Jesus baptism, God is declaring in no uncertain terms that Jesus’ work on this earth will be to serve and to love. Serving the world is what delights God.
God’s ever present commitment to us then brings us right back to a baptism, but a different kind of baptism then we heard about today. We find ourselves at our baptism.
A baptism not so much about us, but about God. A baptism where God names us and claims us. Beloved. My child. W are a part of Gods family. God has been naming and claiming the Israelites for generations, now God also names and claims in baptism. The world provides many opportunities to be named and defined: Mom. Brother. Grandfather. Spouse. Friend. Teacher. Banker. Fisherman. Athlete. Black. White. Democrat. Republican. Poor. Rich. Nike. Apple. Google. Seahawks. Sometimes these labels and names can be divisive and unhelpful, but with some we are happy (and should be happy) to claim as part of who we are.
But where, ultimately do we get our worth from? These words can describe us, yes, but they should never define us. For if we are defined primarily by our liberal or conservatism, we are separated from others. If we are defined primarily by what we have, we are separated from those who have not.
If, instead, we remember the identity that defines us is “child of God”, then we are able to flourish among the swirl of names, identities and values that compete for our money and attention. If we remember also that this identity- this unwavering love of God that makes us family together – applies to everyone else, perhaps there is hope for reconciliation, compromise, and justice.
So, every time we are touched by water: in the rain, in the sink, in the puddles, let us remember our baptism, remember our name –beloved child of God. And be renewed in faith, hope, and courage.
And every time we are tempted to pass judgement, demonize the ‘other side’, avoid someone who makes us uncomfortable, let us remember their name – beloved child of God. And be renewed in faith, hope and courage.